A client recently told me who they were intending to vote for. It was a shot out of the blue for me; I would not have expected it and had to work quickly to move the surprise from my face and maintain a clear face – the party wasn’t the important thing at that point, so I was able to put it to one side. But I guess it’s just another one of those times where a client surprises you with a thought or a word about a group of people, (positive or negative). It’s happened to me before – I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard from varying clients ‘I’m not racist, but..’, or a homophobic, biphobic or transphobic comment, or an anti-religious comment, or an ableist one. It’s a conversation hotly debated amongst trainees; do you challenge, or do you let it go? Is it important to the working relationship? Does allowing the comment to pass unchallenged somehow make my practice (as in my overall place of work, as well as individually) in some way oppressive? Does it challenge UPR? Is it un-person-centered?
I haven’t come to a conclusion as of yet. So far I seem to be in a place where I gently challenge an outright prejudiced comment, to see if the client genuinely means what they said, or if it is just a throw-away, IF the context of the conversation allows for it. I don’t stop the client’s process and offer ‘whoa! wind back a minute! you said…’, but I might point someone back to it and check my understanding was correct. If it is, and the work allows for it, I might unpack it.
The problem with this is that the only things that get picked up are those in the client’s awareness. I’m willing to get that in counselling rooms across the country, clients are saying some things that are shocking, and counsellors do not see them as problematic. In my other life, I read a paper recently about the teaching of ‘homosexuality’ in schools in sex and relationship education. In the paper, 60% of teachers who took part said that they were comfortable teaching about being LGB (T is rarely mentioned), but 60% of the teachers who were observed teaching about LGB identities we rated as being in some way ‘problematic’ in their teaching, either through their lack of addressing prejudiced comments from students (or joining in with prejudiced jokes) or simply because they just ignored the fact that LGB identities existed. All of those things are problematic – whilst ‘other’ identities remain othered, there is a danger that they remain ‘easy targets’. By bringing those identities into the counselling room we make them less available for negative comment – by usualising them.
Political identity however? I hope it’s something that changes over time, and for the ‘better’ (I’m joking here….)